Capitol recollections

Morning breaks over the Capitol. March 2018.

I was ten the first time I saw it with my own eyes. 5th grade field trip. In those days, parents could ride on the bus with the children; they didn’t have to follow behind in a car. That is how my mother got to go. She volunteered to chaperone. She didn’t have a driver’s license. I think it was the first time she’d ever been to D.C.

All along the mall, teachers strategically organized students for photos with the best view of the Capitol behind them. Everywhere you looked were rows and rows of children, many carrying small flags. Not all were American, but all seemed excited. I walked, listening to the musicality of many languages I couldn’t understand.

I cannot remember if it rained, or what we ate, but I recall the beauty of my country’s capital enchanting me. In some gift shop I bought a crinkly parchment reproduction of the Declaration of Independence. We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness…I was happy that day. The Declaration came with a feather pen, to my delight. Then I spied a horse ornament on a glass shelf behind the register. Dark, stormy gray mingled with cream, frozen in the act of rearing up, forelegs arcing in the air, powerful muscles so realistically rendered, mane flowing in an imaginary breeze.

I did not know, at age ten, that a horse symbolizes courage. That it can also represent overcoming adversity and caring for one’s emotional, mental, and spiritual well-being.

I only knew this twelve-inch plastic horse was beautiful and mighty. Captivated, I handed my last dollars to the clerk who wrapped my horse in layers of paper. I cradled it close all the long bus ride home.

It remained on the shelf in my bedroom until I married and moved out.

I’d return to D.C. again via Amtrak at nineteen, to meet my cousin who lived there. He would accompany me to an audition for acting school in New York City (that is another story). It was winter, icy-cold. Bundled and laughing, we roamed the windswept streets, past the lofty steps of the Capitol, talking of life, of the future, of being mavericks of the family.

Life takes many an unforeseen turn. He died young. I never went to acting school.

I had a family of my own instead.

Over the course of years, my husband and I made several visits to D.C. He’s a history-lover, an original poli sci major turned pastor. We took our children when they were small. Our last visit was early spring, 2018, with friends. What I noticed most on approaching the Capitol in early morning: the deep silence. Few people were out. The brooding sky made a compelling backdrop for the ornate dome, topped by Freedom. I took a picture. I tried to remember my first visit as a child, how enchanted I felt…long before I understood that relationships can disintegrate in unimaginable ways. In families, communities, countries.

The day after the attack last week, as I turned on my computer screen to meet with young elementary students, I felt numb, unfocused, ill-prepared. One by one at the appointed times, the children popped in, their faces aglow because…it might snow! A pandemic, ten months of reinvented school and life, volumes of ongoing, unfolding horrors in the news…yet they greet me with when is the snow is supposed to start?

It set a little part of my hippocampus jingling. Snow, as a literary symbol, means innocence, purity, tranquility. Even blessing.

Suddenly that old storm-gray horse souvenir resurfaced, vivid, nearly tangible, in my memory.

Strange.

I can’t say it’s symbolic of the American spirit. What does it mean to be American?

Maybe it’s symbolic of a child’s spirit. What makes it so mighty?

All I am sure of is this: a longing for overcoming and well-being.

For all.

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My previous post is a poem on the power of words to wound and heal: When.

Here are words inscribed in the U.S. Capitol:

On the Rostrum of the House Chamber – “Union, Justice, Tolerance, Liberty, Peace”

Behind the vice president’s chair in the Senate Chamber – “E pluribus unum” (“Out of many, one”)

On the stained glass window of the Congressional prayer room – “Preserve me, O God: for in thee do I put my trust.” Psalm 16:1

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with thanks to Two Writing Teachers for the Slice of Life Challenge, in itself a testimony to the power of stories and community.

Toothless wonder

She said it was wiggly.

But how? She just turned five.

She has a vivid imagination. Fanciful.

We checked.

It was wiggly.

Oh my, we said. Soon you will lose it and—

I know, I know, she sighed, in her world-weary sixteen-year-old-five-year-old way. You put it under your pillow and the tooth fairy brings you cash.

—Priceless.

Tiny reader heaven


Some things are just meant to be.
Like the coming of my granddaughter into my life a year ago.
Like the exact same age difference between us as that between my grandmother and me.
Like my granddaughter’s birthday being in December…like Grandma’s.

My granddaughter is turning five this week. She loves to read. She takes a flashlight and books with her to bed at night. Her parents and I still read to her at bedtime, though. She chooses the stories.

Naturally books must be part of Christmas and birthday celebrations…when I saw this storybook Advent calendar, I knew it was meant to be. I had to look at each tiny book before giving it to her. One of them is based on her favorite movie, Frozen. I rearranged so that will be the book she finds on her birthday.

Little bits of magic go a long way.

My son says she confessed to a sneak peek. She informed him: “I think I am going to have a special Advent calendar book on my birthday!”

My daughter-in-law says she’s in “tiny reader heaven.”

Such joy for me.

Once upon a time, my grandmother read to me.

Now my granddaughter does.

Old things made new…

an etheree celebrating my granddaughter, reading, and the storybook Advent calendar

Read
for joy
read for love
read for yourself,
dear gift from above
a book a day, how fun
words are magic, every one
tiny reader heaven for you
advent of promise for me, to see
how the world expands, in your little hands






Childhood loves: memoir poem

If there were a portal
from Now to Then
and I passed through
where would I find myself
what would I do

what would I see
of my childhood me

raggedy white blanket
satin trim pulling loose
rub rub rubbing
my silky string
between my fingers
and over my nose
as I suck my thumb

Pa-Pa pumping a spinning top
reds pinks blues swirling
like rainbow smoke
—it’s playing music! Like an organ
—what is that song what is that song

I can play Grandma’s organ
shiny pretty red-brown wood
with curved legs
she presses my fingers on the white keys
— 5653 5653
that is Silent Night
oh and I am supposed to be holding
the white C button down

I can drive my little red car
along the sidewalks
in front of the shops
by pumping pedals
while Granddaddy watches
from the bench

sometimes he calls me Duck or Pig

I do not know why

but it is good

Daddy’s buying a house
I do not like the way it smells
like old old coffee

except that a neighbor kid shows me
that there’s a door in the side
of the cement back steps
when we open it
an even older smell comes out
past dangling cobwebs
on strange cool air
—there’s a game under here, in a box
soft with forgottenness for so long
pictures of ghosts mildewing on the top

a roly-poly scurries away in the dust

there’s a lot of kids to play with
and we run
and run and run and run
around my new backyard

—oh no, Daddy’s going to be mad
we snapped his little tree
—here, help me hold these two parts together
while we pray for God to glue them back

it didn’t work

but it’s not so bad

except for the little tree

Mama’s friends bring their skinny black dog
named Thing
yeah I know Thing on The Addams Family
it’s just a hand in a box

Thing digs a hole in the backyard
my sister and I make it bigger
and bigger and bigger
it’s a giant crater
we pull out a giant smooth white rock
maybe a dinosaur’s egg

I smell the clay, orange, gray
feel its slickness between my fingers
while we dig to the other side of the world
China

Ding-dong, Avon calling
look at all these tiny white tubes of lipsticks
they smell so clean
—can you believe there’s perfume
in this bottle made like a tree
—see when you take off the green top
and push the bluebird’s tail
it sprays

Bird of paradise bird of paradise
my own made-up song
I sing it in the tub
while the white hunk of Ivory soap
floats in the cloudy water

At Grandma’s house in the summertime
I find a stack of old records
I put them on the record player
while I dig through a tall wicker basket
of dresses
fancy ones
the pink one is satin covered with tulle
but the blue one is my favorite
with the rows and rows of lace on the skirt
reaching almost to the floor
when I put it on

I’m a princess

singing

I’ll buy you a diamond ring, my friend
if it makes you feel all right
I’ll get you anything my friend
if it makes you feel all right
‘Cause I don’t care too
much for money
Money can’t buy me love

and when I am tired of that
and when the long day is done
I’ll sit by Grandma here in the floor
where she spreads the newspaper open
on the braided rug
I’ll read the funnies
or the The Mini Page
or maybe even Reader’s Digest

Granddaddy comes over
freshly-shaved, in his pajamas
for me to hug his neck
and give him a kiss
on his smooth Old Spice cheek

while outside in summer dusk
cicadas sing
and sing and sing, so loud
and never stop

now I lay me down to sleep
my childhood loves to always keep

Magic find on Etsy: Vintage Avon spray bottle with Her Prettiness Enchanted Cologne Mist.
Not so sure how enchanting the scent would be after all this time…
that this still exists, however, is surely evidence of one powerful spell.

*******

Thanks to Ruth Ayres on SOS: Magic in a Blog for the invitation to return to childhood loves, to linger there for a while, and to bring something back.

Thanks also to the Poetry Friday-ers and to Mary Lee for hosting this week’s Roundup.

Oh yeah and thanks to The Beatles for the song “Can’t Buy Me Love” — and all the others.

The umbrella

—Franna, I need a Frozen umbrella.

—You do?

—My friend had a Little Mermaid one but I want a Frozen one.

—I see. Was this your friend in preschool?

—Yes. Before coronavirus.

—Well. We will have to look for a Frozen umbrella, then. To keep you safe and dry when it rains…

She picked it out. It just so happened to come with a little rain jacket.

The week before torrential rains in this long, long hurricane season, in this long, long year.

When I was about her age, my grandmother gave me a ceramic ornament—two children in yellow rain slickers and galoshes hunkered under a big gray umbrella. If I held the base and twisted the top, it played a tune… I knew the lyrics, and sang…

Raindrops keep fallin’ on my head
But that doesn’t mean my eyes will soon be turning red
Crying’s not for me
‘Cause I’m never gonna stop the rain by complaining
Because I’m free
Nothing’s worrying me

And so the seasons turn, turn, turn, many times over, and here she stands in the autumn of this dreary year, excited for the rain, making her own special brand of magic under a celestial, bright-aqua canopy of love, wonder, and song… I once read that the umbrella is a symbol for power and dignity.

I would say yes, and in this case, absolute joy.

In which I bask.

My heart sings on.

Trees know

Yesterday they came back.

Just a few of them.

The others will have their turn, soon. For now they wait in the wings and on the screens…

In a month when masks are normally worn for celebrating, they came masked for protection—of others.

Several of us stood as sentinels in the misty gray morning, waiting, also masked. Gloved, thermometers ready, when the first bus rolled up and its door opened to release three children.

Another bus carried only one.

But when the first child passed inspection and entered the building, the gathered staff cheered. Applauded. Like welcoming a hero home.

They are heroes.

These kindergarteners, these first, second, third graders in their colorful masks, quietly navigating the building, sitting socially-distanced (alone) at lunch… I suspect these images are etched deep in my brain for the remainder of my days.

I saw this verse on a StoryPeople print by Brian Andreas (1993):

When I die, she said, I’m coming back as a tree with deep roots & I’ll wave my leaves at the children every morning on their way to school & whisper tree songs at night in their dreams. Trees with deep roots know about the things that children need.

I think about how trees

help us breathe

cleanse the air

provide refuge

absorb storms

soften hard edifices

beautify

welcome

are calming

are cooling

change with the seasons, yet remain constant

color the world

Tree leaves do whisper. Trees talk to each other (they do). They live in groups and look out for one another.

They carry the stories they live within them. You can read them, in their rings.

I cannot decide which is best, to be the tree with deep roots, waving my leaves at the children on the way to school, singing in their dreams…or to be the child, asleep, hearing the tree-song…

I stand, a sentinel in the gray silence of the empty bus loop, masked, gloved, thermometer in hand, watching bits of red and yellow and fiery orange swirling through the air as if stirred by an unseen hand… tree confetti, celebrating life, letting go in order to hold on through the coming winter, who knows how dark or cold, and I’m seized by the sudden desire to run into those dancing colors…

—I am bits of both.

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Thanks to Two Writing Teachers for the invitation to share on Slice of Life Tuesdays and for also knowing about the things that children need. They, too, carry their stories within them…

Photo: Donnie Ray Jones. CC BY

Dancing ghosts

A poem inspired by a neighbor’s decorations

I happened to glimpse them, in a ring
Holding hands, a curious thing
In the darkness, dancing there
Diaphanous beings, light as air
Small faces in gossamer veiling
Wispy arms fluttering, flailing
Maybe in mischief, maybe in glee
Luminous little spirits set free
…hallowed revenants of you and me,
The children that we used to be.

*******

Just a little offering (shades of October? A bit of Octo-plasm?) for Poetry Friday.
Special thanks to Janice Scully at Salt City Verse for hosting the Roundup.

Grace

The kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these. – Matthew 19:14

For Spiritual Journey Thursday. A double etheree.

Now
I wake,
now I rise,
wiping the sleep
from my sleepy eyes.
Time to eat, time to pray.
Thank you, Lord, for this new day
to live, to learn, to love, to play.
In Your kingdom, where I have a place,
remember Your little child saying grace.


Remember all Your children, needing grace
when we’ve forgotten to seek Your face.
Draw us back to that holy place
in a child’s believing heart.
O Lord, in the morning
cast us not away—
help us, we pray—
You are great,
You are
good.

Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me. Cast me not away from thy presence; and take not thy holy spirit from me. Restore unto me the joy of thy salvation… Psalm 51: 10-12

Give ear to my words, O Lord, consider my meditation. Hearken unto the voice of my cry, my King, and my God: for unto thee will I pray. My voice shalt thou hear in the morning, O Lord; in the morning will I direct my prayer unto thee, and will look up.
-Psalm 5:1-3

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For more Spiritual Journey offerings, visit Reflections on the Teche – with gratitude to Margaret Simon for hosting.

Wolf at the door

A friend sent me this photo after my recent pareidolia poem to a face in a cloud – pareidolia being the misperception of a stimulus as some familiar object, pattern, or meaning. It’s a normal phenomenon. The human brain’s visual system has a specialized mechanism for face recognition: the fusiform face area. We see, we interpret, we strive to make meaning, in more ways than we ever realize…

So: Do you see the wolf in this wood panel?

Imagine, then, seeing it in your house as a small child, every time you enter your bedroom… seems there could be a lesson here about our worst monsters existing only in our minds, but today the wolf has demanded a poem.

Far be it from me to argue…

Don’t really feel like playing
Not sure I should be saying
In case it hears me
Because it skeers me
That wolf beside my door.
Don’t want to go to bed
If a hundred times it’s said
It’s waiting in the dark there
To snarl and bite and bark there
That wolf beside my door.
What will it do as I go past?
Even if I try it super fast?
No one else knows why
I sit in the floor and cry
Except the wolf beside my door.
Please, I want to say,
Won’t you just go away?
If you will let me rest
I’ll do my very best
Oh Wolf—give me my door!
I hear his wild laughter
Ringing ever after
“Tell me, then, what for?
You’re not a child any more,”
Said the wolf who’s at my door.

With thanks to my friend for the photo and the idea, and to Two Writing Teachers for providing a word-playground for a Slice of Life to run and be free.

What’s best for children

Just a little note this evening, as the sun begins its descent, glowing its most golden as it prepares to depart … really I must remind myself that it is the Earth turning away, not the sun itself. Which of us would reach longingly toward the last of that light, trying to hold what remains of the day, until encroaching shadows break our grasp … then, the dark. How many of us welcome it, so tired, so needing the sleep, so wrapping night like a thick velvet blanket around us, letting it shelter us, entomb us, savoring the peace and stillness in it … until we turn to first light and morning once more…

I am tired.

But so, probably, are you.

Today I walked through the empty halls of school. I could hear teachers’ voices in rooms as they met with kids online or recorded lessons. I could not hear the children. Through a hallway window, I caught a glimpse of many young faces on a large screen, interacting with the teacher—a virtual music lesson.

There’s something so eerie about it all. Haunting. The hollowness of the place, the distant, disembodied voices. Dystopian is the word that comes to mind. It’s like living in some novel we’d have been assigned to read in high school. But it’s real. It’s writing itself, bringing itself to life…

In snatches of conversation my colleagues discussed the reinvention of assessment for online administration, to determine what kids need, and what makes sense, and what is best for kids…

That line will not leave me. What is best for kids.

It’s a phrase we tossed around so loosely, before. “Let’s make decisions based on what’s best for kids…” but did we always?

I fired up my laptop, went to my little corner of a Google Classroom, and waited, thinking about those words: What is best for kids. Remembered playing games with a blindfold when I was a child. And waking in the night when the power’s gone out, having to feel my way through the dark…

Within moments, however, a cheery little face appeared. Beaming at me. A little voice asking if, before we read together, I could see something made for classwork today. This child—this very young child—splits his screen and presents to me. Then he asks if we will have time, when we are done reading together, for him to show me his dog.

I am sure, just then, that I feel the Earth turning. Steadily onward. Light mixing with shadows.

What is best for children is what it always was. That they feel safe. And loved. And valued. That they get to share things that matter to them. That there’s joy in learning. That they learn to do new things, some they might have thought they couldn’t. That their teachers do the same. That their teachers work together, help each other, and honor each other for the professionals they are. We may all be apart, but we must all pull together… reaching toward each other as we reach out to the kids.

The time goes so fast. My screen goes empty, the child disappears… and comes back with his dog.

It occurs to me that all three of us are smiling…the dog with his whole wiggly body.

Today will be tomorrow soon enough.

Thanks to Two Writing Teachers for the opportunity to share on Slice of Life Tuesday.